Mechatronics: Driving Product Innovation with Embedded Software

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A quick peek into some research on … designing mechatronic products. The research, Tech-Clarity’s Issue in Focus: Systems and Software Driven Innovation: Complexity and Opportunity in the Mechatronic Era covers both sides of the software driven products coin – the complexity it places on engineering and product development teams and the opportunity it offers to drive more innovative products.

The Research Findings

The report first describes the trend toward more software in products. An increasing amount of product functionality is now driven by software algorithms rather than mechanics, even for mechanically-intensive products like transmissions and suspensions. In fact, many traditional manufacturers now have a lot more software engineers working on product development than they do in their IT departments, and more software engineers than mechanical engineers. Clearly, times are changing.

The report covers two aspects of mechatronics – complexity and opportunity:

  • Complexity: As discussed in the Five Dimensions of Product Complexity with PLM, designing products that cross engineering disciplines adds complexity. For example, changes to mechanical designs might require changes in the control software. In fact, managing requirements, configurations, and change across disciplines are some of the more significant challenges companies face.
  • Opportunity: The report also describes how software driven capabilities allow manufacturers to tailor products to customer or market needs, increase reuse, change products in the field, reduce product cost, and lower product development cost.

Implications for Manufacturers
The trend toward more software driven capabilities will likely continue and perhaps accelerate. The benefits are just too compelling, and traditional products will continue to have a hard time competing against “smarter” products. Mechatronics is here to stay, so Engineering and product development teams have to learn systems engineering approaches and how to manage the complexity of multi-discipline design. But while fighting the complexity, manufacturers shouldn’t lose sight of the potential benefits ranging from more innovative and flexible products to cost savings.

The key to success is integrating designs and product development processes into a systems view. I believe that systems engineering approaches hold the answer, and that PLM solutions will evolve to manage the full systems engineering process. PTC clearly believes this based on their acquisition of MKS as announced at PlanetPTC. Other PLM vendors are also actively at work trying to solve this problem (and create new opportunities for themselves and their customers).

So that was a quick peek into some recent research on innovating with software driven products, I hope you found it interesting. Does the research reflect your experiences? Are you including more software functionality in your products? Do you see it differently? Let us know what it looks like from your perspective.

Please feel free to review more free research and white papers about PLM and other enterprise software for manufacturers from Tech-Clarity.

  • Phil Reney

    Very nice article (and by association the others mentioned within it) on the need to keep integration of activities flowing and synchronised across the board. Ultimately moving away from silo work but at the same time managing interactions in a way that is not detrimental to effectiveness (as overdoing it in volume and complexity that will generate more confusion and kill any gains in productivity if not generating negative returns altogether). nnThe biggest prize will always remain managing greateru00a0complexity withu00a0greater simplicity. Adding to this, material flow (just in time)u00a0from a global supply chain (risk management, stress test of the chain, etc)u00a0between in house and outsourced; and how it can pan itself within the organization and its operations (few improvements were only made to this date), isu00a0yetu00a0another layer. nnPhilnSCM Analyst nTechnology Evaluation Centers

    • http://www.tech-clarity.com Jim Brown

      Phil,
      Thank you for the feedback and for bringing the supply chain view into the picture. Designing mechatronic products is a challenge, but as you point out the supply chain also needs a great deal of attention. I have had the opportunity to research a lot of supply risk issues (see http://tech-clarity.com/clarityonplm/2009/component-compliance-information-supply-risk-management/ for a post and report if you are interested). Issues like compliance, sustainability, and obsolescence are all big issues. Add to that the stress of supply disruption from an event like the Japan earthquake and tsunami and the challenges start to stack up. I am also spending some time researching the risk of counterfeit electronic components, some pretty unsettling things are happening in that regard as well.
      So the complexity includes all of the mechanical design – plus all of the design for supply issues. A big challenge to manage, for sure.
      Thanks for posting,
      Jim